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Exclusive Interview: Seanan McGuire on Her OPERATION ARCANA Story “In Skeleton Leaves”

SF Signal is pleased to present a series of interviews with the authors of the military fantasy anthology, Operation Arcana edited by John Joseph Adams and available now from Baen books.

Here’s what Operation Arcana is about:

In the realms of fantasy, the battlefield is where heroism comes alive, magic is unleashed, and legends are made and unmade. From the War of the Ring, Tolkien’s epic battle of good versus evil, to The Battle of the Blackwater, George R.R. Martin’s grim portrait of the horror and futility of war, these fantastical conflicts reflect our highest hopes and darkest fears, bringing us mesmerizing visions of silver spears shining in the sun and vast hordes of savage beasts who threaten to destroy all that we hold dear.

Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams is sounding the battle cry and sixteen of today’s top authors are reporting for duty, spinning never-before-published, spellbinding tales of military fantasy, including a Black Company story from Glen Cook, a Paksenarrion story from Elizabeth Moon, and a Shadow Ops story by Myke Cole. Within these pages you’ll also find World War I trenches cloaked in poison gas and sorcery, modern day elite special forces battling hosts of the damned, and steampunk soldiers fighting for their lives in a world torn apart by powers that defy imagination.

Featuring both grizzled veterans and fresh young recruits alike, including Tanya Huff, Simon R. Green, Carrie Vaughn, Jonathan Maberry, and Seanan McGuire, Operation Arcana is a must for any military buff or fantasy fan.

You’ll never look at war the same way again.

In this “mission debrief” Seanan McGuire talks to Sandra M. Odell about her Operation Arcana story “In Skeleton Leaves”…

Seanan McGuire was born and raised in Northern California, resulting in a love of rattlesnakes and an absolute terror of weather. She shares a crumbling old farmhouse with a variety of cats, far too many books, and enough horror movies to be considered a problem. Seanan publishes about three books a year, and is widely rumored not to actually sleep. When bored, Seanan tends to wander into swamps and cornfields, which has not yet managed to get her killed (although not for lack of trying). She also writes as Mira Grant, filling the role of her own evil twin, and tends to talk about horrible diseases at the dinner table.


Sandra M. Odell: People in first world countries often think of Neverland as the pleasures of childhood never ending, a haven of innocence and adventure, yet “In Skeleton Leaves” opens the door to a broader, darker definition of childhood that embraces the hardships of war. What inspired your choice of Neverland as a setting?

Seanan McGuire: The original text is actually very aggressive and bloody and terrible. The Pan is not the sort of person you want playing with your kids. I loved the idea of a more primal, less forgiving Neverland.

One of the central themes of the story, that of the eternal cycle of death and renewal of the king/land, is a mythic concept at the heart of some of the greatest story cycles of history. Why do you think such ideas continue to resonate with readers even today?

Humans, no matter how advanced we become, still like to ascribe supernatural causes to the things around us. Droughts happen because we wished too hard that the rain would stop. When a neighborhood declines, we ascribe it to the morality of the people who live there, even though we know perfectly well that there are really social and economic reasons these things happen. So I wanted to extend that, and take the Fisher King narrative someplace that we think of–as you’ve said–as a haven of innocence.

SMO: You play with the perception of identity in this story. Jobs, gender, name, relationships, beliefs points of view. Children are sent to play the game of war by someone who cannot/will not remember the past. Mother-love versus Wendy-love. Older children take on the idea of the feminine caretaker, the mother. Pan the girl, Pan the icon that goes on and on, in some ways embracing the destructive feminine forces in myth and lore. What are your thoughts on how war changes the concept of identity by changing those who survive?

SM: There are things you can’t do without changing or being changed. There are things that children cope with by rejecting the entire concept of the world as it was before the war began. It was mostly a matter of trying to find those concepts, and break them.

Rather than the villain, Pan is as much a victim of the war of Neverland as the other children. Do you feel there are any “villains” in war, or merely victims with different stories and scars?

I feel that it varies dramatically from war to war. But with hereditary wars, it’s often just victims creating victims, forever.

SMO: Not many writers are willing to tinker with classic fairy tales, yet you seem to relish breathing new life into the stories whether in fiction or song. What do you think a marching song of Neverland might sound like?

SM: A nursery rhyme gone terribly wrong. Like, “Off to kill the pirate scum, pirate scum, pirate scum. Off to date the pirate scum, leave them bleeding.”

SMO: What is the appeal of military fantasy? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

SM: Our military is hugely important, and most of us are raised with a good, sincere respect for our citizens in uniform. The nice thing about military fantasy is the battle without the real world complexity.

SMO: What are some of your favorite examples of military fantasy, and what makes them your favorites?

SM: I really love Mary Gentry’s Grunts, for its beautifully inverted view of the war, and Cory Doctrow’s Little Brother, for its painful realism.

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About Kristin Centorcelli (842 Articles)
Kristin Centorcelli is the Associate Editor at SF Signal, proprietor of My Bookish Ways, a reviewer for Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, and has also written for Crime Fiction Lover, Criminal Element, and Mystery Scene Magazine. She has been reviewing books since late 2010, in an effort to get through a rather immense personal library, while also discussing it with whoever will willingly sit still (and some that won’t).
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